In film after film, Laura Linney brings her unique style to whatever role she plays. Her latest performance has some people talking Oscar. On "The Red Carpet" this morning: Laura Linney talking with Early Show anchor Harry Smith.
"The Savages" tells the story of a brother and sister brought together to take care of their aging and estranged father. Its all-star cast boasts Phillip Seymour Hoffman as John and Laura Linney as Wendy Savage.
"She's a fantastic character, and just delicious to play," Linney said. "She is a woman approaching 40, who's in real emotional retardation (Laughs), I guess is one way to put it! She's in arrested development.
"And what I love about this movie is what you learn about these two adult siblings as the film unravels. You see what has happened to them, without being told - you actually see it. And that's great writing, when writing allows you to actually act."
If you see Laura Linney on stage, you can bet it's because she saw something in that script. Acting, she'll tell you, begins on the page.
"What's your test as you read through all of this stuff?" Smith asked.
"It's if you start working on it before you finished reading it
"Did you have that with 'Savages'?"
"Absolutely. Oh absolutely. Yeah. Like page three, I think."
Perhaps her respect for the written word - and her love of theater - comes from growing up in New York City, the daughter of playwright Romulus Linney.
"My parents were divorced and I would spend weekends with my father," she said.
As a young child, Laura Linney remembers watching a rehearsal of one of her father's plays. The actors and director, working together, transfixed her.
"And I can remember the conversation - the tones of the conversation going, and then the actor going back and forth. There was a connection between the two of them that made me, even at the age of five or whatever, sort of lean forward a bit. So that's one of my first memories of being, like, 'Oh, can I join in?'"
Linney has appeared in nearly 30 films, including "The Truman Show," "Dave," "Mystic River," and "The Squid and the Wahle" - her characters often defined by their troubled vulnerability.
"Are you very, very different in real life from how we see you on screen?" Smith asked.
"I hope so! I hope so. I'm sure there are, you know, flashes of you in everything. There's no way to get around that."
"What would we be surprised to learn about you?"
"I love 70's music. I don't know if that's a big surprise. But all that crazy funk stuff. I adore it.
"I don't know if just that period of time in my life, you know, growing up in New York when everything was colorful and sort of upside down and a little dangerous, you know? People were not wearing much clothing. And it was a whole other era. What was considered acceptable and forward-thinking behavior was very, very different. There was a freedom and light and everyone wore color - and then the 80's came and everyone wore black!"
"You're still wearing black," Smith pointed out.
"I still wear black."
Black being the unofficial uniform of New York actors. Perhaps she developed her sartorial style at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York.
Linney makes it clear: getting into Juilliard was her big break as an actress.
"It wasn't really any of the movies or any of the plays. It was getting in here. It was getting into this school. I learned things here that I recall every day. Every single day."
Her goal coming out of school was to be a part of the theatre. She didn't have to wait long.
Linney went to work as an understudy in the hit play, "Six Degees of Separation" at Lincoln Center.
"I couldn't believe it. My name was in a Playbill! Oh! I was so overly-excited that I was gonna see my name in print in a Playbill. The vanity was out of control! And I was so ashamed that I was really torn about (laughs) being so excited about these playbills and wanting to, like, not look like an idiot.
"And I can remember, we were in rehearsal and I was walking across the hall. And I saw them: They arrived, the Playbills! And I knew that it was gonna say, at the very bottom of these Playbills it says "understudy," and it will say for this character and that character… I knew it was gonna say 'Laura Linney.' Oh! My God! I had collected Playbills my whole life, suitcases of 'em. So I ran into the room, I wrenched this [out] which was hard to get out 'cause they were all bound up, I ran into the bathroom, I closed the door. I'm reading, and it said, for this character … 'Lavro Linney'! (laughs) And I thought, 'You know what? Serves you right! Serves you right!'"
Not many mis-spellings followed, as Linney established herself as a fine actress on stage and screen.
She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as a single mother in the indie film, "You Can Count on Me." It was the first of two Oscar nominations - she received one in the supporting actress category for "Kinsey." She's also been nominated for a Tony for her work on Broadway in 'The Crucible." And in 2002 she won an Emmy for her recurring guest role on the sit-com, "Frasier"
The success does not appear to be going to her head, though she isn't sure she knows what being a movie star means any more.
"Ten million dollars a picture, on the cover of magazines?" Smith suggested.
"Right. Well, I wouldn't be doing the work I'm doing if that was the case, you know? You don't make $10 million to do 'Squid and the Whale' or 'Savages' or the films that I am the proudest of."
"Those are the movies that nobody wants to make," Smith laughed. "You may have just hit on the theme of our story about you: You're the star of the movies nobody wants to make."
"Ah-ha!" she laughed. "Yes, that's me."
And that brings us back to "The Savages," a film that just enough people did want to make, one that again affirms that Laura Linney is a truly fine actress, and is even being chatted up about a third Oscar nomination, even if she's not quite ready to go that far herself.
"That would be nice. But you never know with this stuff. It's impossible to be ignorant of the rumblings and the mumblings. So it's nice to be even in that sort of realm. Because that means that some people are liking the movie enough, and if there's that sort of talking, maybe people will go see it.
"You know, it's always a relief when you don't suck. (laughs) It just is! That's a big relief. Just don't suck! You know? Yea! I didn't suck in that movie. Yea!"
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